Joseph’s brothers fear that Joseph will deal with them harshly now that their father has died. They still don’t get it! They send a fake message to Joseph making out that ‘Dad said you should forgive us’. Their fear was real. They knew that without the protection of their father, Joseph, the powerful leader, could do whatever he pleased.
No wonder Joseph wept (verse 17). He had already forgiven them.
The news is, sadly, full of terrible acts of violence and injustice. Often you will see the people or victim’s family on the steps to the court where there has been a trial of some kind and they will make a statement. There may be talk of lack of justice or a too lenient sentence, that the ‘guilty’ deserved more punishment. But when I see or hear an interview with the wronged against party describing forgiveness to the perpetrator, I am always moved. It takes so much to give up your right to demand something else be done. To offer your pain to be dealt with in the hands of another and more powerful authority.
Joseph puts it like this, ‘Am I in the place of GOD?’ and he leaves us with a challenge. Joseph was in a position of being regarded, by the Egyptian culture, in the place of a god, but he knew that he couldn’t take the place of GOD. If you read Joseph’s story from chapter 37 you can see that he had a right to demand justice of some kind. He had been wronged by his brothers and their selling him into slavery had meant several years of intense difficulty. He had the right to punish them … but his choice was to place that authority into GOD’s hands.
It can take more courage to allow GOD in His divine wisdom to work out justice. It can be difficult to allow GOD to sit on His judgement seat, but that is where He will be in the end. He can be trusted, we know that, but His ways are not our ways, He may not do what you would do. It is our choice whether or not to give it to Him and to forgive. Jesus talked about it, taught us to pray it and demonstrated it to us. He showed us that forgiveness is possible even for the people who nail you to a cross (us!). I am not saying that it is an easy choice for us to make, but it is a choice none the less.
The second piece of Joseph’s wisdom, ‘You intended to harm me, but GOD intended it for good’ can be read in different ways… let’s have a look at a few of them.
Bad things happen … GOD can use those bad things – This is true to an extent because GOD cannot be restricted to only being able to use good circumstances to speak and cause us to grow and mature. The danger is that this kinda says that GOD makes bad things happen so that He can teach us some lesson. That is not the truth! Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world that is no longer perfect with fallen people that sin. (Where are you?)
Your aim was to harm me … GOD used you to get me where I am, He intended it to happen for good – Not so keen on this train of thought! This is saying that GOD used Joseph’s brothers, like some weird puppets, made them jealous (led them into sin), because He needed to get Joseph to Egypt to save His people. This is restrictive! GOD needed the brothers to sell Joseph?! No He didn’t! GOD could have got Joseph to Egypt and into the palace and before the dreaming Pharaoh another way, in fact any number of other ways. Taking this meaning restricts our lives to nothing but a set path, whatever our decisions, GOD had already planned that decision … so not free will at all …
What was in your heart was harm … GOD’s purpose and intent was good – I think this is the closest. It is comforting to know that the schemes of others to take us out, will not destroy the purpose of our big GOD. The dream that Joseph had in chapter 37 about the brothers bowing down to him was given to him by GOD after it was noted that the brothers disliked Joseph. That dream was the future – it was needed to overcome the harm that the brothers had wanted for Joseph. The future (bowing down to Joseph) was not what the brothers wanted and so they sold him as a slave to stop that future. But GOD bought about that future one way or another. The bowing down may not have originally been in Egypt … perhaps there was a different story available for Joseph before his brothers sold him, they would bow down to him at some point. But GOD’s purpose and intent was good. GOD’s plan was for good. He wanted His people to be free from comparison, jealousy, fear … and He used these years and this story to deal with that in the founders of His nation.
GOD’s intention for His people is still good. He designs good should come out of all things.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
So, as a final words of challenge and encouragement on this the final page of Genesis:
Is GOD sitting on the throne or are you trying to dish out punishment? Have you chosen to forgive?
Are you going through stuff that is not good? If so remember that GOD isn’t done yet, He works all things for good. If you want to read a little bit more on seeing GOD’s goodness can I suggest a friend’s blog … The Goodness Bag